God’s grace vs. personal holiness


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All believers instructed in Scripture know the primary theme of Galatians. The author Paul rebukes Judaizers who teach that in order to be justified believers in Christ must be circumcised according to the law of Moses. Jesus Christ has already set us free from the yoke of slavery to the Law. Therefore we are under grace, and not law.

How can obedience to God’s commands and personal holiness therefore fit in with the primary theme of Galatians?

Galatians 5:1 It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. 2 Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all. 3 Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law. 4 You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. 5 But by faith we eagerly await through the Spirit the righteousness for which we hope.

In verses 4 and 5 Paul teaches that believers will not be justified by Law, but rather by faith by which we eagerly await “the righteousness for which we hope.”

What is this righteousness which we eagerly await and for which we hope? As we shall see, it is more than simply the righteousness which is imputed to us when we put our faith in Christ. We need not await and hope for the imputed righteousness which we are taught is given to us by grace the moment we repent and put our faith in Christ. So what is the righteousness to which Paul refers here?

Freedom in Christ is not a license to sin

Galatians 5:13 You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love.

Paul warns us that our freedom in Christ does not mean that we are free to sin. God’s grace is not a license for us to sin and to indulge the sinful nature. Rather, we should use our freedom to serve one another in love.

14 The entire law is summed up in a single command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 15 If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.

16 So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. 17 For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law.

If we live by the Spirit and are led by Him, we will not gratify the desires of our sinful nature. It is extremely important, therefore, that we learn to “live by the Spirit.” If we do so, we will not commit the following acts:

19 The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

“Faith” will not save you if you submit to your sinful nature

If we live by our sinful nature, we will practice sin and we will not inherit the kingdom of God. Going to church faithfully does not guarantee that we will inherit the kingdom of God. “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.” (Luke 11:28)

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.

If we truly belong to Christ Jesus, we will have crucified and put to death our sinful nature with its passions and desires. We will be living by the Spirit, and will bear good fruit in our personal character and behavior for the Lord. We will be living in holiness.

Believers can be deceived

Galatians 6:7 Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. 8 The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature a will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.

In this final chapter of his epistle, Paul reveals the bottom line. We can wax eloquently about justification by faith, but ultimately we will reap what we sow. We cannot mock God by claiming to be justified by Him through our “faith” all the while sowing to pleasing our sinful nature. Paul clearly tells us that we will reap destruction. But if we sow to please the Spirit by walking in holiness and producing the fruit of the Spirit, we will reap eternal life.

The true grace of God

Now we can understand what Paul meant by “the righteousness for which we hope” and “living by the Spirit.” When we live by the Spirit we will be walking in holiness and bearing the fruit of the Holy Spirit. We will become righteous in the Lord’s sight not simply by faith, but because we are actually becoming like Him. “And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:18)

True saving faith brings justification, justification leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. This is the true grace of God.

Romans 6:22 But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life.

There is a way taught in Scripture by which we can actually put to death the desires of our flesh, and thus actually live in holiness to please God.